Last Sunday, we walked up to Heceta Head Lighthouse. It’s beautiful, with amazing views from the summit, but I damn near didn’t see them for the tears.
Happy tears, but tears.
Backstory: A couple of years ago, trying out my wings as a wheelchair adventurer, The Resident Carpenter-Blacksmith and I headed for the coast. We discovered Yachats, a cozy little Oregon coastal town with some of the best views of the Pacific, and were especially enchanted with a place called Heceta Head.
It’s a inlet fronting an evergree forest, and that day it looked more gothic romance than real: Beautiful bridge on an ocean-going river, surrounded by wave-pummeled, mossy boulders the size of a Costco. There were seabirds and seals and otters, and, at the topmost summit, an old whitewashed lighthouse staring out to sea.
Nathan wanted to explore the lighthouse. I glanced at the steep, gravelly path winding up to the summit and knew I’d wheel maybe 100 feet before my arms gave out. “I think I’ll stay here and enjoy the beach,” I said, “You go on, though.”
“Oh, come on! I’ll push you!” And he wouldn’t take my embarrassed “NO!” for an answer.
I’m not a lightweight, in any sense of the word, but he flipped up the handles on my spiffy wheelchair, dug in his heels, and started pushing.
And pushing. The chair’s movement took on a worrisome, jerky quality.
“You don’t have to do this,” I warned, “You’re going to give yourself a heart attack!”
“It’s fine. I’m strong,” he insisted, and powered me up what felt like a near-vertical path. The gravel slipping under my wheels didn’t make it any easier, but he persevered.
The path flattened into a wide spot halfway up, at the lighthouse keeper’s cottage, and Nathan stopped, set the wheelchair brakes and bent over double, breathing hard. His face was an interesting shade of puce; I wondered if I should call 911.
The second half of the path looked even steeper than the first. “Do you,” he puffed, “Want,” pant-pant, “To go the rest,” huff-huff, “Of the way?”
“No, no,” I said hastily, “I think I’ve seen enough. Let’s catch our breath for a sec, and go back down.”
Keeping a wheelchair on a gravelly downslope is actually harder than going up, but we made it down. I resolved that, if I ever dumped the wheelchair, I’d come back, WALK that damn path all the way to its cursed summit, and slap that bloody lighthouse silly.
Fast-forward to last Sunday. Nathan fixed a ginormous country breakfast and, pleasantly replete, we bundled into the truck and headed to Heceta Head. We stopped at the foot of the path and I looked up its length. Saw the distance. Gulped.
Nathan, in that SuperNormal way of his, simply started walking, sure I’d follow. So I did.
Now here’s an odd thing: Before, that lighthouse path was pretty much straight up, I’d stake my life on it. Yet today, the path before me had a gentle upslope, far less than the rollercoaster sidewalks I trod in my daily neighborhood walks.
“Hmmmm,” mused Nathan, “I could have sworn this path was much steeper the last time we did this.”
Amazing what erosion can do in a couple of years, right?
On the way up, I stopped again and again, snapping away with my camera, but I was stopping for beauty, not breath. The path was lined with rhododendrons and wild azaleas, bordered by forest, but whenever it cleared back a bit, we looked down the cliffs into the sea.
We passed dark rooms in the forest, stands of oyster mushrooms that looked more like phalaenopsis orchids than edibles, and the sort of views that only the Oregon coast can provide. We rounded the last corner and…
There it was: The Lighthouse.
It was on the small side for a lighthouse, white stucco with a bright, rose-red roof. The slopes flattened out to a wide lawn, bordered with a safety fence. Nathan took a video panorama of the view, spotted an otter chasing fish down in the waves. “Look!” he pointed, and I saw long silver flashes through the roiling sea, with a small dark head in hot pursuit.
We observed the otter at his breakfast for awhile, took in the gulls and terns nesting on the rocks below, and watched the mists rising down the coast. Then slowly, deliberately, I walked up to the lighthouse, and SLAPPED my hand down onto the stucco.
“You made it!” Nathan exulted, and that’s when the tears started. We hugged for a moment, I got a few more shots, and then we started down.
On the way back, we stopped at the keeper house’s gift shop, masked up, and went in. Nathan bought me a stocking cap embroidered with the lighthouse, “as a memento.”
We strolled the rest of the way back to the car, smiling.